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There’s music floating around our backyard. It comes from a mockingbird perched atop the pecan tree, the phoebe sitting on the sprinkler head, house finches chirping over the bird feeder, and our chickens clucking around their coop. The symphony has me yearning for some indoor bird music. But what do I know about bird ownership?

Enter Erik of Our Feathered Friends in Mission Valley (619-280-5134). “If it is your first bird, you want to start small because you’re basically buying a two-year-old for life. Parakeets, lovebirds, and cockatiels typically live anywhere from 10 to 25 years, but the bigger birds’ lifespan is 30 to 50 years. The birds have the intellect of a four- or five-year-old but the emotional maturity of a two-year-old, and they don’t grow up. Birds are sensitive, intelligent creatures, so once you build trust with your bird, it is like having a kid.

“As far as a cage, the bigger the better,” continues Erik. “Birds need stimulation and enrichment. A lot of birds get bored in captivity, and then you start to get behavioral problems like screaming and feather plucking. Think of an animal flying around in the wild and then clipping their wings and putting them in a cage — you’re depriving them of all that exercise and things they do. So you have to think about their life in the wild and apply it to captivity. A lot of the birds are equatorial, so they’re not used to extreme heat or extreme cold. If it’s uncomfortable for us, it’s typically uncomfortable for them. It’s not recommended to have them outside year round. They can acclimate, but you have to be careful.”

And their food?

“They eat all different things in the wild; they are scavengers. People food is the healthiest thing for them — fresh fruits and vegetables. What is good for us is good for them. A seed mix isn’t bad. You can also introduce a pellet mix. Pellets are formulated to be very healthy and vitamin-enriched. Certain species are prone to obesity, and you need to be careful from the get-go if you get a young bird. You need to pay attention to what they are eating.

“All our birds were typically hand-fed at one time or another, and a lot of people have a misconception that if a bird is hand-fed, then it is tame. But that is not true. I have hand-fed hundreds of birds, and I have had these same birds bite me — sometimes a day later, sometimes a year or two later. The process of keeping a bird tame is constant work. They have to come out every day and be handled. It is fun hand-feeding; there is a bonding process there, for sure. But if you hand-feed a bird and then don’t hold it for a few weeks or months and think it is going to be tame, that is unrealistic.”

At Our Feathered Friends, parakeets start at $19.99, lovebirds are around $100, and cockatiels range from $79 to $119.

“A parakeet or a cockatiel would be a good first bird because you can interact with them,” says volunteer Mark at Birdland in North Park (619-285-9601). “They are friendly. The cockatiel is more friendly than the average parakeet, but they are both good. The parakeets come in all colors…blue, green, yellow, white. The cockatiels are anywhere from albino, which is completely white, to a yellow to a gray and then a mix.”

The birds shouldn’t take residence next to the kitchen “because the Teflon from pans will kill them. And no drafts.”

For cages, “If the cage is bigger, the birds are fine with that. And length or width is more important than height, because birds don’t fly up, they fly side to side.”

“Most birds that are going to be pets are better by themselves,” offers Jessica Ambriz, assistant manager at Bird Crazy in Clairemont (858-576-9858). “If you give them a mate, they bond with the mate and they no longer want anything to do with you.”

Bird Crazy offers grooming services. “Grooming for birds is offered free for customers who buy from us, $10 for those who don’t. Grooming is done usually every six to eight weeks.”

Without grooming, Ambriz says, “Their nails get too long — they are sharp and pointy. We clip and file them.”

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